South Korea 0 Qatar 1
By Paul Nicholson in Abu Dhabi
January 25 – Qatar pulled off the surprise win of the tournament to date knocking out traditional regional heavyweight South Korea 1-0 to take them to their first Asian Cup semi-final.
It also notched another new tournament record for the 2022 World Cup hosts who became the first country in an Asian Cup to beat both North and South Korea. With all their geo-political problems with neighbours you have to hope that they haven’t created a new problem for themselves.
It was a game that was more cat and mouse than intense end-to-end action. South Korea will rue their lack of urgency in the Qatari box, but were faced with the blocking numbers of a five-man back line that were not afraid to give away fouls high up the pitch.
The game did not always flow and as South Korean coach Paulo Bento pointed out, the referee didn’t help that. Even so, the South Koreans had the balance of play and the better of the goalscoring opportunities, including one ruled out for offside.
Qatar’s breakout attackers – Almoez Ali and Akram Hassan Afif – who have lit up the tournament with their movement and incisiveness to date, found their match against a South Korean defence and were limited to only occasional use of their natural speed. But today was a day for their defensive line-up to take centrestage.
The first half was tentative. Of most note was perhaps the ever-impressive Omani fans who had once again driven across the border to support the Qataris, providing a foil for the much larger Korean support in a crowd of just 13,791.
Early on Son Heung-Min, breaking down the right, couldn’t quite reach an overhit ball. It was the story of South Korea attack. For all their possession the Koreans couldn’t quote find the final killer ball in the danger areas.
It wasn’t until the 33rd minute before the first clear chance game. A Korean free kick from right saw Hwang In-Beom bend the ball past the top right hand corner of Saad Al Sheeb’s goal.
Five minutes later Ju Se-Jong volleyed over the top from outside the box, and a minute later the prodigal Son stepped for a free kick that he crossed – he should have gone for goal.
The second period saw Qatar start to play themselves into the game, getting more and better possession, even so Al Sheeb. Was twice called into action to punch away curling free kicks.
With Korea seemingly getting closer to Qatar’s goal and Son starting to take control, Qatar’s goal came against the run of play.
An attack down the left hand side saw what looked like a harmless ball come across the top of the Korean box 30m from. Abdel Aziz Hatim stepped into it to unleash a low shot that left the Korean defence rooted. 1-0 Qatar.
With 12 minutes left suddenly the game burst into life with the Korean response immediate. A break down the right saw five Koreans streaming into the box and Hwang Ui-Jo
Getting a guiding touch into goal. The referees assistant ruled offside, VAR agreed.
Bento immediately rang the changes pushing three men up front and Koreans peppering the Qatari box with every opportunity. It was just not going to be their day.
The final whistle left the Koreans stunned. All that was left was for the Omanis to get back in their cars and trucks and head back over the border – one in that this politically over-complicated region that can be crossed. Hayu Qatari.
Bento was gracious in defeat saying he thought “it was a balanced game where we tried to control the game and dominate the game, as we had in games that we played before … They played with five at the back and I think that during the 90 minutes there were not too many opportunitues but I think that we had more clear than our opponents. After having a goal disallowed we had other opportunities and a lot of shooting from outside the box which we could have controlled better.”
Felix Sanchez acknowledged the scale of his team’s achievement. “It was a big day for us. It was difficult for us to keep the ball in the first 25 minutes. Few chances but not clear chances. After that we found a way to keep the ball and reach the last third. Second half we were better.”
“We showed we are able to compete against the best teams in Asia in an official competition,” said Sanchez. They could go all the way.
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